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Debbie Hadley

Indiana Man's Death Blamed on Brown Recluse Spider

By May 31, 2009

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Headlines about brown recluse spiders always catch my attention, so my antennae were raised by a news item from Indiana: "Spider Bite Likely Cause in Evansville Man's Death."

Brown recluse spider
Brown recluse spider
Photo: CDC

Several Evansville area newspapers and tv stations reported that Keith Reed, a 42-year-old man, died of an apparent bite from a brown recluse spider. Reed was found dead in his home. After returning from a camping trip three weeks earlier, Reed told his wife he thought he had been bitten by something while in the woods. The day prior to his death, Reed had a fever and was in excruciating pain.

The coroner will need to confirm the cause of death before we can say for sure whether Reed's death was the work of a brown recluse. Fluid from the site of the suspected bite and hair samples from the victim can be tested to confirm the presence of brown recluse venom.

I read most brown recluse headlines with skepticism. Misdiagnose of brown recluse bites is common, unfortunately. There's only two ways to tell for sure if a brown recluse bit someone: catch the spider and have its identity confirmed by an arachnologist, or confirm the presence of venom in the patient's body. Physicians who practice medicine in places where brown recluse spiders do not exist have been known to diagnose patients with brown recluse bites, sans spider or venom.

In Mr. Reed's case, I can't dismiss the claim so easily. Indiana is brown recluse territory. Reed reported that he tripped during his camping trip. Brown recluse spiders aren't aggressive, but will bite defensively when pressed or crushed, such as might have happened when Reed fell in the woods.

If county coroner Annie Groves does prove Mr. Reed's death was caused by a brown recluse, I hope she will stress the rarity of such a death. Even in places where recluse spiders are plentiful, bites are uncommon. And the majority of people who are bitten by brown recluse spiders recover completely, without any medical intervention at all.

More Headlines About Brown Recluse Spiders:

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June 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm
(1) Benitta Garcia says:

Before you go posting information you should check the facts. Number Keith Reed was not aware of the spider bite, number 2 his wife was not aware of this bite until it was 2 late. 2 Hospitals, who knows how many doctors and they all misdiagnosed him

November 11, 2010 at 8:18 pm
(2) Angie says:

As a critical care nurse for over twenty years it was my misfortune to care for a physician in his sixties who suffered unimaginable agonies as he slowly died from a brown recluse bite. One of my instructors also lost her husband, a man in his late forties to a brown recluse bite. It happens. It is agonizing. The torment I watched that physician suffer was beyond what any human should ever be asked to endure. We brought him back three times, he had no skin, tubes in every orofice, yet we couldnt give him pain medication. His bp was to low and we were maxed out on the medications to support it. Yet his family could not let go. Finally we couldn’t bring him back. It was a blessing.

May 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm
(3) Spider man says:

Really? He really had tubes in his ears or is your knowledge of every orifice (note spelling) as inaccurate as your diagnosis of the bite.

April 5, 2012 at 2:46 am
(4) Michael says:

Most spiders are good to keep other bugs out of your way. When it comes to the brown recluse, there are several siuations every year in Indiana and other states where people get bitten by one. Naturalists or state workers will tell you the story, that they only bite when you fall on one, or roll on one. I do not believe this is true. If one is disturbed, it may react defensiveley. Yet, I do not want people to kill every spider they see, so research your spiders. Stay clear of the brown recluse. If you buy a bug spray to rid them from your home, make sure it is a spray that will kill them. Many sprays only kill the common spiders and not the poisonous ones. The poisonous spiders are the ones to worry about, for common spiders are not harmful to humans. If bitten by a poisonous spider, seek treatment immediatley. All spiders are not bad, neither are all snakes. So don’t kill them all, and/or run them over. Hope this was helpful.

May 31, 2012 at 9:38 pm
(5) mike rilling says:

There remains no confirmed deaths due to a brown recluse spider bite. There is a lot of hysteria every Spring regarding these spiders. I was bitten by one in 1993 . I think I remember the bite but it was not a painful bite. I didn’t notice anything until hours later my wife screamed at the hideous wound forming on the back of my thigh. Fever started in and partial paralysis on my right side and it caused a nasty wound but I survived and was on antibiotics for quite a while.

July 18, 2012 at 12:26 am
(6) Erica says:

I was bitten in 2008 by a brown recluse and yes it was a brown recluse because I put it in a baggy and had it analyzed. Once you truly look at them and their characteristics..you will never be mistaken as to what you’re looking at again. Anyway….I was at my computer and I felt something crawling up my pant leg…out of pure reaction I smacked my leg and that’s when it bit me on my upper, inner thigh. Within an hour the area around it had swollen to about the size of a softball. I bagged the spider and went to the emergency room. They said they could do nothing for me and would just have to see how my body reacted to it. :\ The next morning I woke up itching all over my body. I had broken out in a rash from head to toe. I went to my local clinic where they gave me a shot of antibiotics and steroids. I had no idea that that wouldn’t be the end of it. The rash remained for 2 full weeks..I developed intense muscle cramping and could barely walk for about a week. I kept going to the clinic to have them look at it and it continued to get worse….so they sent me to Vanderbilt, to the spider bite clinic. Over the course of about 3 months…I was back and forth to the doctor to have it looked at. It was a total wait and see thing. I ended up having to wear these bandages on it and their purpose was to basically liquify the huge scab….the stench of rotting, oozing flesh stayed with me for about 2 months. I can almost gag now..just thinking about it. It was disgusting. Anyway, it’s been 4 years since then and it left an ugly, half-dollar, sized mark on my left and to this day it itches and burns. That is my brown recluse story. =)

October 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm
(7) doesnt matter says:

I was bitten a yrar and 4wat months ago. I saw the spider, I identified it and also had the puncture marks. I went to seven hospitals where they could find nothing wrong with me. An internistargument did au test and confirmedalso that at highand level of poisonmy correlated with what itime said about themy spider bite. He prescribed no follow up care and led me to believe the poison,as he called it, would leave my body on its own. I am in the hospital and my symptoms are the same as when i first got bit, but no one will listen or believe me even though all their tests are

March 29, 2013 at 3:23 am
(8) Mowgli says:

doesnt matter: The reason that when you first got bit, no one listened to or believed you,was because no one could understand you! Did the bite affect your ability to spell properly?

March 29, 2013 at 3:28 am
(9) Themowgliman says:

doesnt matter: The reason no one would believe you or listen to you is because no one could understand you! Did the bite affect your ability to spell properly? WTH??????

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